Not all farmers battle reforms

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Amidst all the protests by defiant farmers in Oslo on Tuesday, embattled Agriculture Minister Sylvi Listhaug won some welcome support for her efforts to wean them away from the subsidies and protection they’ve enjoyed for decades. At least two poultry farmers in Nord-Trøndelag think her offer, denounced by the farmers’ union Bondelaget, is the best to come along in years.

Defiant Norwegian farmers marched through Oslo on Tuesday and demonstrated in front of the Parliament, over the government ministers' proposals for agricultural reforms. Sylvi Listhaug's photo was among those appearing on their signs claiming she, Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Finance Minister Siv Jensen are "dangerous." PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Defiant Norwegian farmers marched through Oslo on Tuesday and demonstrated in front of the Parliament, over the government ministers’ proposals for agricultural reforms. Sylvi Listhaug’s photo was among those appearing on their signs (lower left) claiming she, Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Finance Minister Siv Jensen are “dangerous.” Others disagree. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

“Bondelaget wants to take us back to the 1980s, while the rest of society moves forward,” Ivar Andreas Skjetnemark, whose hens produce eggs for retail chain Bunnpris on his farm in Levanger, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “Norwegian agriculture has to adjust if we’re ever going to be able to compete. I think we now have a government that can even make it possible for us to export.”

Norwegian agriculture has traditionally relied most on curbing imports of cheaper agricultural products, while Listhaug claims she wants to increase production, leading to Skjetnemark’s  view towards export potential. Listhaug wants to ease the regulations that actually restrict production in Norway to keep prices high. She also wants to shift more state support over to larger farms where farmers can work full time off their land, instead of having to take extra jobs on the side. That has left Norway’s smallest farmers feeling threatened and led to charges that Listhaug is “industrializing” farming. Skjetne and fellow egg producer Erling Brenne have a different view, and welcome the possibility to produce more than current quotas allow.

“Today there are a lot of farms in the district that are hit by production limits,” Brenne told DN. “They’re not allowed to produce as much as they want to.” Even though neither he nor Skjetnemark stand to gain on Listhaug’s offer themselves, they think it will start a reform process that will make it easier for them to live off egg production in the future.

Farmers from all over Norway protested in front of the Parliament in Oslo on Tuesday, over any threat of cuts in their state support. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Farmers from all over Norway protested in front of the Parliament in Oslo on Tuesday, over any threat of cuts in their state support. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

The well-organized farmers who marched through Oslo on Tuesday and then gathered in front of the Parliament are fighting the proposed deregulation. Carrying signs like “Norway needs the farmer” and “We get Norway to grow,” they rang cowbells and roared in support of their leader, Nils T Bjørke of Bondelaget. He urged them, though, not to boo when Listhaug addressed them, conceding that she should be respected for “daring to meet us.”

Listhaug thanked them for allowing her a chance to speak, and said she thought it was “sad that we haven’t been able to agree.” Listhaug repeated that the government wants the next generation to be able to live off their farming, not just off state subsidy.

One of the farmers brought along a cow and her calf to take part in the protests in front of the Parliament on Tuesday. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

One of the farmers brought along a cow and her calf to take part in the protests in front of the Parliament on Tuesday. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

“We want to support the active farmer,” Listhaug said. “We’re moving money from those who produce little to those who produce more.”  Just as her ministry was also announcing funding for organizations that promote agriculture, she met farmers who greeted her with silence and soon returned to their cowbell ringing when she was finished.

It was as if the farmers were biting off the hand that feeds them, but they don’t see it that way. Trøndelag farmers Skjetnemark and Brenne told DN they’ve cancelled their membership in Bondelaget.

“Listhaug is pushing for reforms that Norwegian agriculture hasn’t seen before,” Skjetnemark said. “She deserves all the support she can get.”

The conflict between the government and the farmers now must be resolved  Parliament, where it’s unclear what will happen. Politicians in parliament may either vote in favour of Listhaug’s offer or come up with an alternative proposal that gives the farmers more financial support. The matter is due to be discussed on Friday.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund